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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) is not quite magic realism because that would require the semblance of something supernatural to exist within an essentially realistic environment. So this is not a fantasy. What we actually have is an extended metaphor for the world of the pre-teens at the point of its interaction with adults. As these youngsters grow up, they begin to experience some of the emotions that can make or break adult lives. There’s prejudice and rationality, selfishness and occasional altruism, dislike and the possibility of love. And at the scout camp which is the central peg on which the metaphor hangs, that’s just before breakfast. For these purposes, scouting is the primary mechanism which allows adults to train the young and celebrate their progress through the various rites of passage by awarding merit badges. Yet the adults in charge are often less than competent, holding office because there’s no competition for the roles. Individuals like Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) may claim to be authority figures but, for the most part, the camp runs without his input. The boys know what to do and leave him to his own devices.


Imagine a world distilled down to its basic constituent elements. All the people you need to know live on an island. It’s not a real island, of course, because this is an allegory. The setting is largely irrelevant save as a place in which the action will take place. We have a community that lives apart. Access is by seaplane or boat. There’s no obvious means of economic support. No factories or businesses. Yet, despite the fact no-one is described as a farmer, there’s evidence of crops planted and prospering in the weather conditions. There are houses at different points on the island but no roads as such. There’s a church built on high ground which serves as a focal point for the community and as a place of safety when storms or hurricanes threaten.

Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are never lost

Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are never lost


At this point, imagine Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a young orphaned boy who’s not much liked by his current foster parents. At a church event recreating the drama of Noah’s Flood (and representing the first step in the chain of events that will finish with the arrival of a hurricane and storm surge), Sam meets Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). She’s out of joint with her family and the pair sees each other as kindred spirits trapped in loveless homes. They yearn for a better life and, through a stilted exchange of notes, they explore whether they should run away together. Because this is an island, there’s nowhere to run to but, for them, it’s all about the symbolism. Time alone together is what matters. The consequences can take care of themselves. For the record, Suzy’s parents are Walt Bishop (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand). They have four children but the marriage is now loveless, maintained out of habit. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) is the local law. He loved Laura when young but she chose Walt. Our law officer never really recovered. The only other person of significance is Social Services (Tilda Swinton), an outsider who proposes to take Sam away from the island and lock him up in Juvenile Hall for running away from his foster parents.


So that captures the dynamic. The turmoil of adolescence is reflected in the approaching hurricane. When the storm finally hits, no-one is safe. This leads to sudden readjustments and accommodations that might not have been possible in more peaceful times. Fortunately, this is set in 1965 when teens were a lot more innocent. They did have sexual desire back in those days but, at the age of twelve, this pair approach sex with some curiosity and a will to experiment. That means, apart from a few kisses and some fumbling physical contact, nothing irreparable happens. Although there’s a symbolic marriage, all this does is confirm their friendship. For now, that’s enough to be going on with. In fact, neither has had a proper friend before, so this is a first major step towards becoming a better adjusted adult. In this respect, the film by Wes Anderson actually functions at a level of irony because, for the most part, the “children” prove to have more sense than the adults.

Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Bill Willis

Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Bill Willis


The whole enterprise is not a comedy as such although there are some very amusing moments. Not that any of the cast are anything other than completely serious. The humour comes from incongruous events half-glimpsed in the background or, occasionally, slightly surreal outcomes matching the arrival of the storm. In the end, despite all Mother Nature is able to throw at the camp site Sam Shakusky constructs on the shore line, it remains completely undamaged. It was, in every respect, one of the best constructed camps ever! This is a young man who’s able to plan an escape that largely defeats the adults, and build a nest that can withstand a hurricane. He has a seriousness that befits a twelve-year old scouting prodigy. Suzy Bishop is bookish even though this actually depends on her not returning library books. They make a good couple and, if they can retain their friendship long enough for it to become love in the adult sense, they will have more hope for the future than any of the adults around them. You can’t ask for more from a metaphorical couple representing the future of the human race. In every way, Moonrise Kingdom is a gentle delight!


  1. February 13, 2013 at 5:28 am

    I love this movie. Great review 😉

    • February 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

      I was going to see it when it came round last year but my wife talked me out of it (usually we go together and she was not excited by the trailer). It proved to be worth the wait — my wife still won’t admit she liked it. She can be stubborn.

      • February 14, 2013 at 5:16 am

        I watched it with my wife and she also liked it, but we usually have the same opinions when it comes to drama, comedy, thriller and action (believe it or not). She’s not very fond of SF and horrors which are my favorites 🙂

      • February 14, 2013 at 9:52 am

        I can usually persuade my wife to go and see modestly SFnal, e.g. Source Code, Super 8, etc. and mildly fantastic films, e.g. The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, but she draws the line at horror. This is part of a general tendency not to like anything with too much violence in it, so this also rules out the latest Die Hard, Expendibles 2, etc. although she did admit The Man From Nowhere was OK (high praise from her) while disliking the latest Bourne. It makes deciding what to see something of an adventure in its own right.

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